The so-called “Happy Hour” debate featuring seven Republican presidential candidates who did not make the cut for Fox News’ primetime debate began with two candidates going after frontrunner Donald Trump.
“I’ve had my issues with Donald Trump. I’ve talked about Donald Trump for the standpoint of being an individual who was using his celebrity rather than his conservatism,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.
Former Hewlett-Packard Executive Carly Fiorina jabbed at recent reports about a phone conversation Trump had with Bill Clinton shortly before Trump declared his 2016 candidacy.
“I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race, and of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I haven't given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign,” she said.
Trump was one of the few candidates who got dinged during “Happy Hour.” Most of the hour-long debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was focused on the familiar themes Republican candidates have talked about on the campaign trail, including Hillary Clinton, Planned Parenthood, opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, and blasting how the administration has dealt with ISIS.
“I'm fluent in Clinton speak - I've been dealing with this crowd for 20 years,” Graham said. “when Bill Clinton says it depends on what the meaning of is is - that means is is whatever Bill wants it to mean. When Hillary Clinton tells you I've given you all the emails you need, that means she hasn't.”
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore are all also participating in the earlier debate. Fox News limited participation to the primetime to the top ten highest polling candidates, as judged by recent polls. That debate begins at 9 p.m.
The earlier debate took place in front of a sparse crowd. Republican organizers say the nearly empty Quicken Loans Arena was the result of safety concerns with moving audiences in and out between the two debates.
The candidates defended their positions in the crowded race, even though none of them cracked the top ten in recent polling. Santorum, who won 11 states during his 2012 presidential run, said he is in a better position this time around than in his last run.
“I would say the message that got us the win in Iowa and ten other states against pretty overwhelming odds, is the message that is going to deliver us in this election. We didn't start out four years ago at the top of the heap, we were behind where we were today,” he said.
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich will participate in the later debate.